By Jennifer Johnson
Many native English speakers assume all sign language is the same—that it’s all based on English, and it’s simply signing English sentences as they’re spoken. However, American Sign Language is one of more than 400 different sign languages around the world, and it has a unique structure and grammar independent of English.
“Sign language is a visual language, not a written or spoken one,” says Chad Entinger, executive director of Deaf Missions, a ministry based in Council Bluffs, IA. “It’s not ‘English with hands.’ In fact, you might not sign every word the way you speak or write a sentence in English, and you might have signs for concepts for which there aren’t exact words in English.”
For these reasons, Deaf Missions has been working on an ASL version of the Bible since 1981. Today the entire New Testament has been completed as well as 60 percent of the Old Testament.
“The process is very similar to written translation work,” Entinger says. “We begin with extensive research, working with the original Hebrew and Greek texts. We video our drafts as we go and invite scholars and members of the deaf community to review and critique the translation efforts along the way.”
The final product includes visual chapter and verse indexes, graphics, maps, and other information. The “ASLV” is available via mobile app and download as well as DVD.
Deaf Missions has been a pioneer in this effort; no other organization has produced a complete sign language translation, but Entinger says it plans to complete the remaining Old Testament books by 2020.
“When the ASL version is done, we would love to then work on translating the Bible into other sign languages,” he says. “It’s so important for people to have the Bible in their native language.”